Chanticleer’s Spring 2009 Tours Include
Return to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (April 15)
and Debut Tour of
China (May 1–10)
The Grammy-winning twelve-male vocal ensemble Chanticleer will give eight performances in five cities during its first tour of China, which begins on May 1 in Suzhou and ends on May 10 in Hong Kong.
Before heading to Asia, however, Chanticleer – now in its 31st season – will give concerts in Morrow, GA; Huntsville, AL; St. Paul and Moorhead, MN; and the Temple of Dendur at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. In addition to various educational residencies, the group will also lead a Youth Choral Festival in Hibbing, Minnesota on April 21.
Chanticleer’s touring program this season, entitled “Wondrous Free”, celebrates the 250th anniversary of the first American song – it is named after the song “My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free”, which was penned by Francis Hopkinson in 1759. The program, which will be given at the Met Museum and elsewhere, presents a rich panorama of American song across the ages. Highlights include works by William Billings, Juan de Lienas, Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla, Stephen Foster, Samuel Barber, Eric Whitacre, and a newly-commissioned work by David Conte entitled The Homecoming: In Memoriam Martin Luther King. Following the premiere of The Homecoming this fall, San Francisco Classical Voice wrote, “Conte’s work, a Chanticleer commission, sets an impassioned and thought-provoking poem by John Stirling Walker, in which a soul expresses anger and frustration that the justice King called for has yet to come to pass. Both poem and music have so much going for them that the work demands repeated hearings.”
Chanticleer’s most recent program, “Composers/Our Age”, was presented in concerts throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and was a great success. Joshua Kosman reported for the San Francisco Chronicle:“Although a composer at 30 is still considered young, a 30-year track record qualifies an arts organization as an institution. So there’s an alluring piquancy in Chanticleer’s new commissioning project, ‘Composers/Our Age’. To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the estimable men’s chorus called on three composers – born around the same time the group was founded – to contribute pieces on subjects of their own choosing. The resulting program, introduced in Berkeley’s First Congregational Church on Tuesday night, was enlivened not only by a wide stylistic range but by the combination of youthful energy and technical mastery on display.”
In the Q & A that follows, Christine Bullin, the President and General Director of Chanticleer, discusses Chanticleer’s recent and current programs, the upcoming China tour, and the group’s continuing commitment to educational outreach.
A conversation with Chanticleer’s President and General Director, Christine Bullin
Chanticleer recently finished performing, throughout the Bay Area, a program of commissioned works called “Composers/Our Age”. The program features music by three 30-something composers – Mason Bates, Shawn Crouch, and Tarik O’Regan – and it has been introduced in Chanticleer’s 31st season.
This program was a breath of fresh air that put the spotlight entirely on these young composers. The pieces they wrote are very strong, and working with such young composers is a charming experience because they have such an open concept of what music is. For someone like Mason Bates, music is just music. He’s not writing it for tenure, or to be self-consciously post-modern. His music is not all about labels. Each of the six movements in his new piece for us, Sirens, is very different – using elements of everything from jazz and blues to electronica. He writes music that is very audience-friendly.
Tell us about the other works.
Shawn Crouch’s piece, The Garden of Paradise, is a departure for us, something of a “current events piece” – like John Adam’s operas. Sean’s younger brother was recalled for a third tour in Iraq, and that is what inspired his piece. The text is based on poems by an Iraq War veteran, and singing about what’s happening around us is important and exciting for us to do. I think it’s important for the group and for the audience to hear music that has something to do with what’s happening now.
Chanticleer’s Artistic Adviser, Joseph Jennings, thinks Tarik O’Regan’s No Matter, which is settings of texts by Samuel Beckett, is one of the most beautiful pieces the group has ever sung. As music, it is more intellectual than the other two pieces. Mason’s music is drawn from the world around him, and Sean wrote about a subject he thought was important. With Mason, complexity in and of itself isn’t important – his chief concern is the effect of the music on the audience. Tarik’s piece is more introverted and complex – it’s very high for the sopranos. All three works on this program are extremely different in style, intent, and atmosphere, and together they reflect the vitality of the contemporary music scene.
Is it a challenge to get such new works programmed more than the few times when they are premiered?
With the Crouch and Bates works, the movements are performable as excerpts, and we plan to sing them on the road, and around the world, next year. Chanticleer will sing Shawn Crouch’s piece in St. Paul on April 23. Overall, it’s a very rewarding experience to raise money, take risks, and wait and deal with deadlines in the hopes of receiving pieces that will have legs. If we think a piece is suitable we can perform it hundreds of times. In the first year we can do it 50 times if it fits well. Few other organizations can give so many subsequent performances. We’re also happy when other groups, most of them not professional, take up these pieces and sing them. When you hit the jackpot, these pieces can really get out there.
Chanticleer’s main touring program this season, “Wondrous Free”, is a wide-ranging collection of American songs. The group is performing it at home in the States – including in the Temple of Dendur at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 15 – but also on tour in Asia and Europe.
“Wondrous Free”, which takes its name from a 1759 song by Francis Hopkinson that is considered the first American song, is a very enjoyable program – not at all pedantic and very entertaining. It’s an amalgam of all these different influences that go into the American melting pot. When you propose this program abroad you get such interesting reactions. The French are just tickled that it’s very exotic, that all of these influences exist in a single country. We don’t discriminate! The average American would find it hard to describe what “American” music is, and this program is a fairly lighthearted answer. The program will be done this spring in China, where it’s called “Sounds of America”. A presenter in France has a series called “Light and Shadow”, and I realized that this program works perfectly with such a thematic concept – that it has plenty of light and shadow. Remember, Stephen Foster was writing in the depths of the Civil War. As Americans, we don’t tend to dwell on the shadows – we tend to make light of them. As Foster writes in one of his songs, “Hard times, come again no more!”
Chanticleer has toured Asia many times, but beginning May 1 [through May 10] it will give its first performances in China.
That’s true. We’ve been to Japan and Taiwan and Hong Kong and Singapore, but this is our first time in China and it will be an extremely intense experience singing there. There is already a great deal of expectation for these concerts. In Shanghai, for example, the inexpensive seats are sold out and there are banners on the streets. This is intriguing, because there’s not a lot of choral music in China – though there’s now a chorus at the Shanghai Conservatory. But choirs are developing across the country. And the King’s Singers have been successful there. When we imagined this tour we imagined three cities, but now it involves five cities and eight performances in ten days!
There are also some other special reasons this China trip is significant.
Well, San Francisco has an extremely important sister-city relationship with Shanghai. And it’s also the 30th anniversary of Isaac Stern’s historic visit to the Shanghai Conservatory, which was chronicled in the film From Mao to Mozart – 1979 was when that happened. The visits of artists and musicians were a big part of the opening of China, and China understands that cultural exchange is an accompaniment to diplomatic communication. We’ll be offering two programs there, including From the Path of Beauty, a work we commissioned from Chen Yi and perform with the Shanghai Quartet. Weigang Li, the founder of the Shanghai Quartet, was at the Shanghai Conservatory when Isaac Stern came. He went on to became one of the first Chinese musicians to come to San Francisco as the door opened. He learned about string quartets in San Francisco, and then went back to Shanghai and founded this one. The commercial relationship that exists between China and the U.S. is huge, and cultural exchanges paved the way. But when the going gets sticky, as it might again, the real people-to-people exchanges need to go on.
Chanticleer has had a very ambitious education program over the years and spends a lot of time in schools working with young singers. Tell us about some of the activities you’ll be doing in the coming weeks.
In Hibbing, Minnesota – that out of the way place where Fargo was filmed – we’ll be doing our Youth Choral festival that we do around the country every year. Minnesota is important to us because of our long ties to Minnesota Public Radio, but also because it is choral “ground zero” in the United States. Choral activity is huge there. We invited the Hibbing High School to work with us a few years ago. And now they‘ve invited us and we’ve decided to do it. Some of our education initiatives are funded by the NEA [National Endowment for the Arts], and our ongoing goal is to hook up with the people who are the “energy points” in our field, especially the choral directors with zeal. And that’s how these festivals happen. It’s all about these people and their willingness to step out. In ways, our educational program is our best-kept secret: people hear what we do in this area but they probably don’t realize how much time and attention we devote to it. And we don’t do this grudgingly.
Since choirs are all about the interaction of individual singers, this would seem like an inescapable mission for a leading ensemble such as Chanticleer.
Choral art is a populist one, the one classical art form that everyone can participate in and that so many do. These people are the hardcore of our fan base and audience. It’s a fan base that is very sophisticated. They read music and they do what we do. Chanticleer’s singers come out of choruses and have respect for them. It’s a democratic art form, and anyone can make music if they can listen to someone tell them when to breathe and don’t have a tin ear!
You’re hoping to put your education program into the national spotlight next season with many special new initiatives.
That’s true. Education is the DNA of Chanticleer: this is our world and we want to give back to it. This is the way we encourage our future audiences. All the Chanticleer singers have choir directors who were influential in their lives. The members of the group have plenty of time to perform, so they are happy to take time for this. The effort they put into these choral days is incredibly generous, both full of enthusiasm and seriousness of purpose. These events help kids see things they haven’t seen before and give them a sense of standards to aspire to. Next year we’re going to spend a lot of time working with kids, headlining three regional American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) conferences and Youth Choral Festivals around the country, and putting on our own National Youth Choral Festival in San Francisco with twelve invited choirs from the Bay Area and around the country. We’re going to make a big deal of it. There are so few collective activities in America and singing in a chorus is one of them. It teaches you to do things with other people, something we’re doing less and less. In a chorus you collaborate willingly and submit your own self to something larger. No one expects these kids to become professional musicians – though some may – but they’ll become interested audience members and good citizens. It’s all about willingly doing a pleasurable thing with other people.
Chanticleer: upcoming engagements
In the U.S.
Educational Residency, Long Island University
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York, NY
Spivey Hall – Clayton State University
Spivey Hall – Clayton State University
Trinity United Methodist Church
Youth Choral Festival
Educational Residency – Apollo Senior High School
St. Cloud, MN
St. Paul, MN
Concordia Memorial Auditorium
On tour in China
Suzhou Grand Theater
Shanghai Concert Hall
Shanghai Concert Hall
Private Event, Shanghai Conservatory
National Grand Theater
National Grand Theater
Shenzhen Concert Hall
Hong Kong, China
Sha Tin Town Hall
Hong Kong, China
Back in the U.S.
Modesto Junior College Main Auditorium
Santa Monica, CA
The Broad Stage
Santa Monica, CA
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